It’s finally here!
The 2022 MLS season kicks off this weekend, and with so much talent around the league, I’ve narrowed it down to these 10 players I’m most excited to watch.
The $16 million man! The 20-year-old Argentine starlet was brought in to create. The former Velez Sarsfield midfielder was coveted for his skill, first touch and inventive dribbling in the final third. I love that he is strong on the dribble and can embrace contact from opposing players.
What should excite Atlanta United fans is that when Almada gets on the ball, it's with speed and purpose. He drives at opposing backlines in a manner that is reminiscent of former Atlanta attacking legend Miguel Almiron. He shows no delay in getting into the final third and with that incisiveness, it'll be tough for defenses to recover and get set. He is unselfish by nature but can be the solution if needed.
The 18-year-old American is the latest version of an MLS wonderkid. He played in 33 matches last season, only starting in 14, and still managed to bag five goals and six assists.
Best of Cade Cowell – 2021 Highlights
Cowell is explosive off the ball and has started to show more efficiency with his finishes. The rising star plays with no fear, constantly putting pressure on backlines with his runs in behind. The homegrown player is aggressive on the dribble and is a lethal threat on the counter-attack.
San Jose invites teams into their half when they’re in possession and building out of the back, which leaves space behind for Cowell to exploit. I’m looking for him to improve playing in tight spaces and to show more accuracy connecting passes. He’s beginning to blossom with the experience he’s gained from just over 2,100 professional minutes and a US men’s national team call-up.
The hype is real! Costa, formerly of Juventus and Bayern Munich, has put many defenders on skates when they’ve tried to defend him throughout his career. And now, the 31-year-old Brazilian is coming to MLS to prove he still has the quality that many European super clubs drooled over.
The left-footed winger can be ruthless off the dribble, chopping defenders inside out and finishing with poise. LA have brought in Costa to create more space in the final third for their top goalscorer, Chicharito, as he floats out to wide areas to isolate defenders, with Kevin Cabral rounding out the DP trio.
The flanks will be the area to focus on when watching the unpredictable Costa, and with his confidence on the ball, it should make for great entertainment.
The NYCFC attacker came into the league last year with big expectations after the large fee ($8 million guaranteed) they paid to secure his services from Vasco da Gama. The 19-year-old Brazilian took some time to find his form but when he did, he helped the Cityzens in their quest for MLS Cup 2021.
I like his strength on the ball. He doesn’t shy away from contact and puts himself in good positions in the attacking third. Magno showed his prowess in front of goal and his ability to change the game with his movement and runs when coming off the bench during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, after only starting five regular-season matches. Toward the end of last campaign, I could see chemistry developing for Magno and his fellow attackers as they created dangerous chances, putting defenders on their heels.
Magno is comfortable on the ball but can get caught on it at times, so I’d like to see him play quicker to get into dangerous spaces. He’s already begun this year by bagging a brace in their last Concacaf Champions League match vs. Costa Rica's Santos de Guápiles, suggesting he’s ready to fill the minutes Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Jesus Medina leave behind.
The Sounders’ midfielder is entering his seventh season with the club and has proved to be among the most consistent players since joining the league. Lodeiro’s currently working his way back to full fitness after a difficult year of injuries that saw him miss the majority of 2021. However, I predict a bounceback season to top form in 2022.
MLS All-Stars 2019: Nicolás Lodeiro
The Uruguayan is smooth on the ball, rarely losing possession, and sets the tone for the Sounders with his work rate and distribution. He has a gift for finding pockets of space, and his close ball control helps him glide easily out of pressure. The midfielder is tactically astute, finding mismatches that create overloads and cause defenses to be stretched. Defensively, he presses to win the ball back in advanced positions, resulting in chance creation.
Lodeiro is an unselfish playmaker that can play deadly balls between the lines and with a fit Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz and Albert Rusnak, it should be an epic season for the Sounders.
I’m expecting the 21-year-old Uruguayan winger to have a big year. We have seen flashes of brilliance from the savvy young playmaker, yet consistency has proved lacking. Then in 2021, after returning from a loan to Spain’s Almeria, he had glimpses of playing to his ability and potential.
Best of Brian Rodriguez with LAFC
Rodriguez has technical quality, and a burst of pace to go with some flair. But the downside, since his 2019 arrival from Penarol, is his production in the attacking half with the final ball typically not finding its intended destination.
He seems to have changed his mentality and slowed down just a bit before making that final decision. He’s shifty on the dribble and can take players on. His dynamic movement in and around the box is a nightmare for defenders and should be fun to watch at LAFC alongside Carlos Vela and Cristian Arango under new head coach Steve Cherundolo.
If you’re looking for another young American with great potential, look no further. Pomykal was being scouted by some of Europe’s elite clubs after a strong showing at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. The well-balanced midfielder has fantastic vision and awareness. He, unfortunately, has been hampered by injuries since 2020, only registering five matches that season. Then 2021 was much improved for him, as he played in 31 matches and started in 18 of them.
When Pomykal's at peak fitness, I’ve seen him be a tremendous ball-winner and then drive forward out of midfield. He’s an accurate passer and often makes the right decision to break pressure with his on-ball decisions. Pomykal has an incredible engine, covering almost every blade of grass in the middle third. With healthy attackers in Paul Arriola, Alan Velasco and Jesus Ferreira playing up front – all under new FC Dallas head coach Nico Estevez – this could be a season that sees the box-to-box talent climb back into USMNT contention.
The 17-year-old goalkeeper started in 11 matches last season, racking up four clean sheets for a struggling Chicago Fire FC side. But I was so impressed by his anticipation and shot-stopping ability in his first professional season. Slonina plays with a maturity and confidence that is infectious. When a backline has a keeper who is calm and steady, they’re not afraid to make mistakes and can play with freedom. That’s huge for a team.
Slonina comes off his line quickly and makes himself big, cutting down the attacker's angle. He plays with poise and never seems to get rattled, no matter how many chances his team was giving up. It’s no wonder he’s gained serious European interest and even drawn comparisons to the legendary Gianluigi Buffon.
Slonina's already earned a USMNT call-up and the trust of his teammates and coaches in a short amount of time with his strong performances. If he can deliver consistently, it could be his last season in MLS.
I dubbed Gil the “Little Magician” for a reason – he’s magic! It’s a tough task to contain the left-footed midfielder due to his awareness and his ability to create space for himself. But New England’s No. 10 is comfortable in tight spaces and can take his marker on the dribble. His deft first touch allows him to evade the first defender and set himself up for the next play.
2021 Comeback Player of the Year
Away from the ball, Gil is always on the move and forcing defenders to be pulled out of position, which opens space for his teammates. The Spaniard doesn’t always look for the killer ball but is known to pick out a player with an incisive pass. He plays both sides of the ball and his work rate to press often ends up with Bruce Arena’s team regaining possession.
The reigning league MVP’s quality was on full display last season, as he set the club record in assists with 18. I expect his stellar run of form to continue in 2022 for the defending Supporters’ Shield winners as they balance MLS and Concacaf Champions League.
Shaqiri has experience at the highest level. Do I need to list the clubs that he’s had success with!? Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Basel just to name a few. The 30-year-old Swiss international has stated his desire to win trophies with Fire FC. His influence could prove to be massive for a Chicago club that is moving in a new direction.
Shaqiri can strike a ball from distance with venom, finish calmly after combination play in the box, and be lethal on set pieces. The No. 10 has a low center of gravity, making him very strong and difficult to knock off the ball. As a leader of this Fire squad, they're going to need him to raise the level and be the creative genius in the attacking half.